Stand up, Girl!

I haven’t posted a blog in a while because I realized that my posts were singing the same song.  I didn’t want to come across whiny, complaining, stuck in the past, etc.  I wanted to wait to write after I felt I’d come to a place in the river where my head was above water. So, I’ve been praying and asking God to do a work in my heart as only He can do.

Then at some point, joy began to creep in where grief and discontentment lived.  Gratefulness ushered in joy.  Why? I’d been praying for it for many months.  Why now?  Cooler weather bringing relief from the heat?  Homeschool days getting into a good rhythm?  JoJo becoming better behaved in church?

Nope.  I had to emotionally slap myself in the face and CHOOSE joy cuz my circumstances weren’t offering it.  I had to call sin, SIN. 

I was treating God like the enemy because He wasn’t doing what I wanted.  I was punishing Him (as if that were even possible).  I was withholding praise and gratefulness trying to just ”push” through this rough patch and come out stronger on the other side.  Just endure long enough and things will turn around!  Surely God will reward my own strength masked as faithfulness by giving me the desires of my heart, right?!

I couldn’t stand the inner turmoil anymore.  The bottom line:  I was trying to fight the enemy with my bare hands.  Funny thing is…it wasn’t the armor that was weighing me down…it was the what-ifs, the unknowns, the uncertain future.  I wasn’t trusting.

While washing dishes one night, I told God, “My spiritual strength is tapped out.  Even my physical strength is at an all-time low.  I don’t think I can even stand on my own two feet anymore.  I’m exhausted.”

That’s when His still, small voice brought back the passage in Ephesians and whispered, “Just stand.”

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  

~Ephesians 6:10-13 (NIV)

Standing is hard people! I’d much rather run…even if my lower back is aching…even if my knees are stiff and swollen, again.  Hurry up and stand!  Blah!  Boring!  I need to DO SOMETHING!

That’s when I began to realize that standing IS an action verb after all.  There is action involved in standing.  Preparedness.  Alertness.  Readiness.  Attentiveness.  Focus.  There seems to be a paradox here.  Don’t I need to be moving forward…towards a goal?

Standing feels like the opposite of progress.  However, at this point in my ministry, standing = obedience.

I have decided to stand up and choose JOY in the midst of the battle.  I stand firm on God’s character, armed to the hilt with His Word that never changes.  I stand tall and face my fears, my doubts, and my worries.  I stop craning my neck to try and see around the next curve in the road.  I’m choosing not to live in the past nor the future.  I won’t have one foot in the present and one in the past or future.  God clearly spoke to my heart about trying to make this unknown future of ours LOOK LIKE THE PAST.

My God doesn’t do imitations!  

My attitude towards the past, present and future impacts everyone around me.  How can I pick up those around me when I’m tripping over my own trust issues?  How can I encourage fellow believers to leave it all in His hands when I keep checking up on God’s progress?  I can’t.

When all I feel like doing is crumbling into a heap on the floor, exhausted from trying to figure everything out on my own, I lift my head and take a stand of humility before an all-knowing, all-seeing God who is GOOD.

He’s not just good when I’ve got it all together and feel I deserve His goodness as if it were some kind of pat on the back.  He’s good even when my knees feel like they’re about to buckle under the weight of what-ifs and unknowns that threaten to paralyze my spiritual growth.  He’s good, even when I’m walking away.

Why?  Because HE.IS.GOOD.  End of story.

If He’s always good, He’s always good to His children.  He always has our best interest in mind regardless of what our present situation is screaming.  And to top it all off, He promises to be by our side through it all!  No take-backs!

“No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Joshua 1:5

Sure, these are truths I’ve always known, but recently I’ve been hit with the reality that my knowledge isn’t translating into attitudes that can be seen in my actions.  OUCH! 

My armor may have taken a beating.  It may have lost its shine.  It’s felt very heavy and cumbersome lately.  But today, joy has flooded in and cemented a foundation built upon God’s infallible word and His unchanging character.  Today marks a day where I choose an attitude of joy that can be visibly seen in my stance.

Does this mean that I won’t ever need this reminder again?  Not at all.  But this marks a day where I can look back and rest assured that God still speaks.  He is a personal God.  I lay this digital, Ebenezer as a milestone on my faith journey that will propel me forward into battle.

 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”  Ephesians 6:11

This is a song by Susan Ashton spoke to me WAY back in 2001.  Its truth still rings true today.  I’d like to think it’s a lesson I’ll eventually learn…but what I know is that I have a loving, Heavenly Father who doesn’t get tired of teaching me.  I hope this song speaks to you as much as it did to me!  STAND!

Covenant Rollercoasters

rollercoaster pic

GettyImages

While I lean more towards the performance arts than the visual arts…I by no means consider myself an artist.  But over the years I’ve grown to learn what I like and dislike.

If I had to describe my visual artistic style…I’d have to go with geometric.  I like things orderly and evenly spaced.  When things match, it makes me happy.  I like closed shapes.  They have a beginning and and end.   I don’t do well with abstract art.  I don’t like guessing at what I’m looking at.  Trying to determine the artist’s motivation stresses me out.

Where am I going with this?  Often in music and poetry we are described as being God’s canvas, His clay, His tapestry, etc.  He is our painter, our potter, our weaver, and so forth.  Over this last year or two I have come to the frustrating conclusion that His artistic style is ABSTRACT.  At this part in my journey, He is using an art form that leaves me guessing.  In this chapter of my book, I feel like the Author is communicating in dangling participles.  I’m at loss when it comes to figuring out what shape He’s squishing this ol’ lump of clay into.

Believe me…I want to be moldable clay.  My heart longs to let go of the brush.  My head screams, “Cling to gratitude!”

I close my eyes and return to those God moments where I felt like I understood the outline of my life.  Those landmarks along the way where God Himself turned the pages of our ministry, leading us with a purpose that only He can give.

Sigh.  I don’t want to be frustrated with crooked lines or splattered abstracts.  I don’t want to impatiently wait for the next chapter to begin as if I control the narrative.

And this is where I find myself TODAY.

I’m becoming more aware that my emotions (or hormones perhaps at my age) along with my rationale are cyclical.  I find myself feeling the same myriad of emotions that lead me to the same Bible truths, seated in God’s character.  Some frustration usually gets to me to asking the Omniscient One for a glimpse down the road, for a sign we’re headed in the right direction…for proof that He’s not done with us yet!  Sometimes this Doubting Thomas just needs to touch the nail-scarred hands!

But we’re not promised the answers to our why-questions, nor are we promised that things are always gonna work out the way we think they should.  God doesn’t owe us a glimpse into our future or some evidential burden of proof that will heal scars and bind wounds, somehow making our sacrifice “worth it all”.

What He does offer us are promises that He will always keep.   He will never leave or forsake us.  His Holy Spirit will comfort us.  One day, every tear will be wiped away.  All things WILL work out for HIS glory.

Self, listen up!  The next time your emotional rollercoaster rolls up and you hop in (yet again) don’t freak out if you can’t see the tracks or if you’re tired of going in circles.  Remember that the Covenant Keeper will never let you run out of track.  He will lead and accompany you to the finish line.  From the beginning to the end.

So Self…just “Enjoy the Journey”!

 

 

 

He Still Speaks

Two weeks ago I had the privilege (thanks to my amazing husband) of attending a women’s missionary retreat where we spent 5 days studying the book of Matthew.  I must start off by saying that the word “retreat” was a little bit of a misnomer in my book.  I’ve never been to a retreat where relaxation time was put on the back burner.  When I saw the schedule I took a long, deep breath and asked God for the energy to soak it all up and not miss a thing!

This retreat turned out to be more of a spiritual renewal than a dip-your-toes in the ocean and vent kind of affair.  So, once I readjusted my expectations…God showed up!  My main goal for this time away was just that…to get away.  I wanted to shut down my homeschool Mom, phonetics teacher, toddler training and overall family facilitator brain OFF in order to hear my Father speak.  I needed to be still.

After our abrupt and completely unexpected departure from Burkina Faso, Daniel and I have been struggling with the “why” behind this relocation.  I go back and forth between, “God, I trust You and I don’t really need to know why this happened.” and “God, I really need to know what You’re up to!!”  The underlying constant that echoes out of both these heart cries is…”Even if…I trust You!”

With that in mind, I showed up to this retreat confident that God was gonna speak.  Admittedly, I was a little fearful of what I might hear.  But I was determined to lay my desires, fears, and doubts aside and JUST LISTEN.

Wednesday rolled around and with it came a longer personal time of reflection.  I was tired; I was missing my family (believe it or not!) and I was begging God for direction.  I found myself no longer asking Him “why” we had to leave Africa, but instead, “what” does He want from me/from us during this next year and a half here in Brazil.

Once my attitude changed and my focus shifted, God very gently…like He always does…said, “This time in Brazil is less about what you can do for me but what I want to do in your family.  It’s less about ministry and more about MY work in your kids’ lives.”  Wow.  Ok God.  I’m not gonna ask for all the details despite that fact I’d love a syllabus for these next 15 months.  I’m simply gonna be still and listen.  When you say move, I’ll move.  When you say stop, I’ll stop.  When you say, address this area…I’ll obey.  You say lean into me and trust I’m at work, I’ll lean.  When you say, these bad habits have got to go, I’ll steer my family in your direction.

Boy…what a weight lifted!  God has brought us out of a goal-oriented career ministry, in the middle of a stressful living situation in order for us to focus on our family life.  Now, I don’t want you to think that our family is falling apart.  Quite the contrary.  Despite the normal missionary life struggles, we are doing great!  But I believe that my God is omniscient and out of His love and mercy He has brought us to Brazil in order to equip us to better serve down the road wherever He leads.  And for some reason, Micah having to leave boarding school and do 10th grade here in Brazil (in the Fall) with me wasn’t by accident.  God sees down the road and He alone knows what we need to be prepared for.

With that in mind, I felt excited (for the first time in a long time) about having 3 homeschoolers under one roof in the Fall!  I know there will be challenges, but God is encouraging me to focus on their spiritual lives more this year while we’re out of the stress of living in Africa.  We were supposed to be learning a language this year.  Instead, God has us here where our attention is less divided and we can focus on our children and how they’re dealing with all of the change of location and ministry.

That leads me to my prayer requests.  Praise God with me because He is at work in our lives!  He is alive and He is faithful in leading His children!  Pray as I seek to incorporate more spiritual growth in our homeschool curriculum.  Pray for us as parents as we seek to nurture our boys’ relationships with their Savior.  It’s so easy for them to see their parents doing ministry and forget that they have a relationship with Jesus to cultivate.  Pray for us as we seek to encourage them to take part in “our” ministry.  With language barriers it’s easy for our kids to feel left out of ministry.  Pray God would give us creative strategies to get them involved both here and in Africa!  Pray for their hearts as each move and relocation gets harder and harder.  They’ve all expressed a lack of desire to return to Africa.   Micah is probably struggling the most with this transient missionary life.  While these emotions are not unexpected, pray for wisdom in how to deal with each child.  We long for each one of them to know that God is using and will continue to use all of their experiences during this season of life.

Our God is faithful!  We are encouraged and are looking forward to having Micah with us this month while he’s on Easter break!  We thank God for His protection while Micah traveled.  This is a big deal for a 14 year old…who looks 17!  (Please stop growing!)  It was a sweet reunion.  JoJo doesn’t want to leave her big brother’s side for nothing 🙂

 

Thank you all for your faithfulness as you sacrificially pray and give so the Gospel can go out!

In His Grip for His Glory,

Stephanie

Make Me a Peaceful Acorn (Elisabeth Elliot)

How many of you have been LOVING the Elisabeth Elliot quotes on facebook lately?  I’ve been so blessed by her words of wisdom that have come from many years walking with and serving our Savior.  She endured many unexpected and painful detours in her faith journey.  She experienced loss and grief that I hope never to taste.  Her faithful example as a servant of Christ brings tears to my eyes.  As I read her quotes and her books, it’s as if I’m talking to her, unburdening my missionary heart to a wise, understanding soul.  There are so many of her quotes that ring like answers to questions I’ve been unable to form.  The beauty of her words bring the I’ve-been-there comfort that can only comes from a fellow missionary who has had to walk certain paths of sacrifice that are part of following His voice.  Elisabeth has a way of putting my heart mumbles on paper.

That being said…allow me to share some Elisabeth quotes (in italics) throughout this blog to help explain where I’m at on my personal faith journey 🙂

I feel like ever since we began our ministry with Ethnos360 (New Tribes Mission) it’s been one season of waiting after another.  I don’t do waiting well.  Allow me to briefly recap the last 10 years of our ministry while Elisabeth Elliot sprinkles her 2 cents in along the way.  Her advice is worth much more than 2 cents!

I remember one specific instance when I woke up in the middle of the night with an abscess tooth.  Micah was 2 weeks old.  We were supposed to head to Missouri and begin our missions training the following month.  We were ready to leave the 40 hour work week behind and step out in faith!  How could we go now when the dental surgery just cost us $1,000?  We waited and prayed and told God we could wait if that was His will. God provided and opened the door.  Move 2 spaces forward.  

After completing our stateside training we applied for our visas to study French in Paris, France.  This was the next step before arriving in French speaking West Africa!  We are supported monthly by churches, families, and individuals.  The interviewer asked us, “What happens when someone doesn’t give one month?”  The truth spilled out and we logically responded, “We trust God to provide what we need, when we need it.” He scoffed and then without one thought, he denied our visas.  This happened TWICE.  We may be a little hardheaded 😉  Move backwards 4 spaces.  

“We are always held in the love of God. We are never wholly at the mercy of other people – they are only “second causes,” and no matter how many second or third or fiftieth causes seem to be in control of what happens to us, it is God who is in charge, He who holds the keys, He who casts the lot finally into the lap. Trusting Him, then, requires that I leave some things to be decided by others. I must learn to relinquish the control I might wield over somebody else if the decision properly belongs to him. I must resist my urge to manipulate him, needle and prod and pester until he capitulates. I must trust God in him, trust God to do for both of us better than I know.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control

So, not wanting to wait around spinning our wheels, we applied at Word of Life (Parole de Vie) in Quebec and were accepted.  We had two weeks to get up there and get settled in before classes started.  God answered and pushed along in our journey!   Move forward 2 spaces.

In 2008 we finally arrived in Guinea! Just short of two years on the field, a coup d’état prevented us from returning to Guinea where we thought we’d spend the rest of our ministry lives reaching an unreached people group with the Gospel.  Now we’d have to head to Dakar, Senegal and start new relationships and attend a new church.  We’d have to send our oldest son to a new local school (to learn French) and start an interim ministry while we “waited” for a village assignment.  What are you doing Lord?  Why have us go to Guinea in the first place if You knew we’d only end up in Senegal?  Switch hands with the player beside you.

“He is always doing something–the very best thing, the thing we ourselves would certainly choose if we knew the end from the beginning. He is at work to bring us to our full glory.” 

― Elizabeth Elliot

After serving for a year and a half in Senegal, we took on the temporary assignment of doing a broad survey of people groups in 6 different countries in West Africa.  This took about 4 months.  It was a wild ride, but the experience we gained has proven invaluable over the years.  During this survey period we found “our” people!  The B* people!  Leadership gave us permission to pursue them.  We had a path!  “Our” path.  We had a purpose!  Full steam ahead…right?  Wrong!   First we needed to live a year in town getting to know the local churches and pastors. Ok Lord. Even though we don’t want to wait, we trust You have a purpose for our stint in town.  Lose a turn.  Stay put.

“It is God to whom and with whom we travel, and while He is the end of our journey, He is also at every stopping place.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot

We went in pouting but were extremely blessed to have gotten to know the folks God put in our path.  We found our African Papa that year in town.  THANK YOU LORD!  We found our Jula language helper that year too.  He and his family ended up following us out to the our neighbor village and we helped them open up the first bookstore there!  THANK YOU LORD!  He kept giving us opportunities to practice thankfulness.

“Thanksgiving is a spiritual exercise, necessary to the building of a healthy soul. It takes us out of the stuffiness of ourselves into the fresh breeze and sunlight of the will of God.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart

We learned that the town folks looked down upon our B* people.  We realized that there was no one working with the B* people in their heart language and that no one had any intention of translating the Bible in their language.  We felt an urgency like never before!

“God’s command ‘Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature’ was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot

We had no idea where this path would lead.  At this point, peace reigned in the country.  Our personal safety was never a question.  Security issues were not weighing heavy on our hearts.  We never imagined how quickly things would deteriorate.

Towards the end of our year in town we began surveying the B* people.  After mapping out their villages, we asked God to guide us to the place He’d have us build our house.  He did. Building was NOT easy, but He provided every step of the way.  In 10 months, we were done!  Then I found out I was pregnant.  Surprise!!  We lived in our house a total of 8 days then came back to the states for Joanna’s birth.  Lose another turn.  (But gain a sweet baby girl!)

“We never know what God has up His sleeve. You never know what might happen; you only know what you have to do now.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot

After 10 months stateside, after visiting most of our churches, after working up to saying goodbyes yet again…our return to the B* people was tabled for another 6 months.  As you’ve read in a previous blog, we weren’t too keen on the idea of delaying our return, but the reasons were compelling.  We felt like we could use the extra time to try and raise more financial support while we kept an eye on the security situation in Burkina Faso.  It was heart wrenching to call folks back in Burkina Faso and tell them that our ministry among the B* people would have to be put on hold again.  Move backwards 2 steps.

“How long Lord must I wait?  Nevermind child, trust me.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control

This year, in June, we FINALLY returned to Burkina Faso!  We had some challenges getting there after our field conference in Senegal (blog) but after God provided a temporary house for us…we dove right into getting our house ready in the village.  Daniel worked hard on making sure our house was up to security protocol standards and we cultivated relationships in town with the the local church in the meantime.  Then the WEEK we were supposed to move back in, the plug was pulled and our ministry with the B* people was tabled yet again.  Why are you saying NO again, Lord??  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.  Go directly to jail.

“Some of God’s greatest mercies are in his refusals. He says no in order that He may, in some way we cannot imagine, say yes.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot

Now I don’t mean to infer that this year and half of ministry we’ve been asked to pursue in Brazil is by any means “jail time”.  It just feels like something that was forced upon us.  Like we were back into a corner and made to choose a plan B.  This is a ministry we didn’t pursue.  Due to time constraints we prayed and agonized over this decision for 2 weeks before deciding on this as our interim ministry.  We’ve been praying for the B* people for years…before we even knew their name.  We were on the road 4 months surveying many different ethnic groups, but we kept coming back to the B* people.  Then God kept opening doors until we were ready to live alongside them.  How do we move on from that kind of relationship…even for a year and a half?  We won’t physically be in jail, but it feels like our vision, our dreams, and our plans will be.

“Lord, where there are interruption, it seems that the disposal of the time I had planned so well have slipped out of my hands. Help me then to remember that it has not slipped out of Yours. In Your hands, these unexpected things will be fashioned into an unexpectedly beautiful design” 

― Elisabeth Elliot, Discipline: The Glad Surrender

Thanks for the reminder Elisabeth.  Despite how it might feel at times, my life is not a Monopoly game.  It’s not an Uno game left to my intellect with a splash of chance.  God is not throwing the dice and deciding which direction I should move or how many steps I should take.  This game of “Life” doesn’t rely on a spinner to determine my path.  My life and ministry is guided by the Hand of the Author of LIFE Himself! (Can I get an AMEN?!)

My mind can’t help but jump ahead at times to the what-ifs.  What if we never get back to the B* people.  How will they hear?  Will they ever read God’s Word in their own language?  If we don’t go back back, what will we do?  What a waste of time and effort, of language learning and relationship building, of finances and planning.

“When ours are interrupted, his are not. His plans are proceeding exactly as scheduled, moving us always (including those minutes or hours or years which seem most useless or wasted or unendurable).” 

― Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control

Breathe.  One day at a time.  He is still on His throne. I need Your peace.

“It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot

“Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot, Keep a Quiet Heart

Ok, Elisabeth.  I get it.  I hear ya loud and clear.  You’ve walked this same road and you’ve asked my questions.  Surely you’ve heard the same responses from a loving Father whose character never changes.

“But, in the words of a Portuguese proverb, “God writes straight with crooked lines”, and He is far more interested in getting us where He wants us to be than we are in getting there. He does not discuss things with us. He leads us faithfully and plainly as we trust Him and simply do the next thing.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot, Secure in the Everlasting Arms

“Do The Next Thing..” 

― Elisabeth Elliot

Our NEXT THING is flying to Brazil on January 15th (Micah flies back to Kenya for school this coming Friday. Yay for him!  Boo for me!)…may we echo Elisabeth’s prayers as we ask for:

PEACE as we start down a new path on our faith journey

FIRM CONVICTION that You are at work among the B* people in this pause

DIRECTION as we explore this new territory as Coordinators for West Africa in Latin America

PURPOSE as we take on roles (yet to be determined) at our mission training center in Brazil, rubbing shoulders with bright-eyed students ready to tackle the task You place before them

JOY in this interim ministry as we seek to be present on this current path while leaving a piece of our hearts in Burkina Faso

WISDOM in how to support 2 boys in Portuguese school, 1 son in the MK boarding school in Kenya, and JoJo who appears to have the spunk of the Energizer Bunny

REST for us that can only come from a closer walk with Him

“Teach me to treat all that comes to me with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.” 

― Elizabeth Elliot

“Nothing that comes to me is void of divine purpose. In seeking to see the whole with God’s eyes, we can find the peace which human events so often destroy.” 

― Elisabeth Elliott

“Think of the self that God has given as an acorn. It is a marvelous little thing, a perfect shape, perfectly designed for its purpose, perfectly functional. Think of the grand glory of an oak tree. God’s intention when He made the acorn was the oak tree. His intention for us is ‘… the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.’ Many deaths must go into our reaching that measure, many letting-goes. When you look at the oak tree, you don’t feel that the loss’ of the acorn is a very great loss. The more you perceive God’s purpose in your life, the less terrible the losses seem.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot

Lord, help this oak tree to grow a few more branches in Brazil for Your glory.

Love,

Your Former Acorn

Learning to Loosen My Grip

So I finally decided that it was time to sit down in front of my computer and let you all in.  Honestly, it’s not all about you.  Sorry to burst your bubble.  It’s more about me.  About my need to get my feelings down on this paper screen.  Perhaps this will allow me to truly turn the proverbial page and prepare to start a new chapter of life and ministry.  Perhaps this catharsis will expire tomorrow.  Nevertheless, it’s time.  

This blog will not be an informative post, full of facts and accomplished goals.  Instead, it will read more like a timeline diary of feelings that I trust will serve as stone altars.  One day I want to look back on this Ebenezer like Samuel and say, “Thus far the Lord has helped us!”.  (1 Sam. 7:12)  With this in mind, I will be including songs and lyrics that have encouraged me over these past few months.  Most of them will come from a group called I Am They off their latest album entitled “Trial and Triumph”.  If you don’t have it already…get it!  https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/trial-triumph/1341233127

 

On our first family visit out to our village, the elders gave our little Joanna a name, Bayè.  This name is given to the first female in a B family.  Everyone wanted to hold her.  Thankfully, JoJo was mostly compliant 😉  This visit was spent explaining why it took so long for us to come back and how excited we were to begin learning their language.  We also inspected the condition of the house and tried to gauge how many trips out it would take to get it back into shape.  Excitement was palpable and expectations were high.  The common response from the B people was, “We’ve been waiting.  You took a long time to return, but we’re still here.”  (Remember, we stayed 6 extras months in the US last year while things were getting ironed out for our return.) 

Over the next 2 months Daniel went out several times to clean mold off of furniture, off the ceilings, to air out the mattresses, etc.  It’s a 3-hour drive one way, so on a few occasions he had to spend the night.  We complied with all the security protocols put in place.  The panic room was up to code.  Daniel had been talking to folks in the village to get a feel for our impending reception.  Folks were excited and awaiting our return.  One B guy said, “Even though it’s taken you so long to return, it’s ok because you’re gonna give us God’s Word in OUR language.  No one has ever done that before.” 

We were all packed up.  The village house was all cleaned and ready.  Daniel’s last words to folks in the village were, “This weekend, we’re moving back in!  You’ll see our whole family next time.  Once we’re settled back in, we’ll start learning your language.”   That weekend Daniel had to make the hardest phone call he’s ever made.  He had to tell our friends that they would have to wait some more.  How long?  We didn’t know.  All we knew is that the recent security report that came out wasn’t good.  Our US mission leadership felt that it was no longer safe for us to live in our village home.  

We were not in agreement with the decision to pull out.  We still do not feel like it was time.  Yes, the security situation was deteriorating in the country.  It hadn’t, however, reached our region of the country….yet.  We felt like we still had time.  Time to make friends that would one day become brothers and sisters.  Time to enjoy our home and share our God-given blessings with our neighbors.  Time to begin learning their language and start evangelization.  Time.  We thought we had time.  

Thankfully our leadership team from Senegal came out and helped us explain the implications of this change to the B people.  We willingly threw our humble leaders under the bus and blamed them for not allowing us to go back (when all the while this decision came from over their heads).  If there is one thing African society can understand, it’s authority.  There is always someone in charge, someone with more authority than someone else.  So, in their eyes, we were just following orders.  And honestly, that about sums it up.  

Meeting with elders to say bye

Explaining why we can’t move back in right now to the chief and elders

We never saw this coming.  You may think…”But, duh!  You knew the risks when you went.  You knew how bad things were getting.  It was only a matter of time.”  You’re right.  Partially.  Yes, we counted the cost and we felt as a family that we could return at this point.  Our home church was supportive.  Our West African leadership was supportive.  Our US leadership was behind us.  Everything was a GO…until the new security report came out and vetoed all previous protocols.  

All the work we’d done up until now was void.  It wasn’t enough.  All of the safety measures we’d put in place weren’t enough.  All of the time and effort and skype calls and deliberating and counting the cost…not enough.  We’d decided the sacrifice was worth the risk, but that was not enough.  Translation:  We were not enough.  My faith was tired.  

“God, I’m tired and I’m lonely
I can’t do this on my own
I surrender every burden
By Your mercy, You come close” 

When the report came out we were speechless.  When our leadership came out to walk through this with us, to let us vent, and to just listen…we were angry.  We felt like we’d been fired.  The decision to go in, amidst the risk, was taken out of our hands.  A decision we’d prayed over, cried over, lost sleep over…was reversed with one email.  How is that possible?  Was this God speaking through men or was this men fearing what they thought was inevitable danger?  Do we push back?  Insist to stay? Or do we respectfully yield to authority and trust that God has them in their roles for a reason?

So.many.questions.  God, why would you bring us this far only to close the door now?  Why would you open doors these last few months when you knew You were gonna close them once we got face to face with the B people again?  If this was in the works all along, why did we come back for 5 months only to leave again? Why do we have to tell them face to face we can’t stay?  This hurts too much.  They don’t understand.  They live in this context.  They can’t turn tail and run.  I feel like a coward.  I feel like I’m abandoning them, turning my back on them.  We said we’d give them Your Word!  How many will go off into eternity without ever hearing You sent Your Son while I’m safe and sound, waiting until the coast is clear to return??  What kind of missionary does that?  Didn’t we agree that we would make this sacrifice?  Didn’t you give us peace to return?  Why?  Have we not been listening all along?  Did we not hear YOUR voice?  Have we not been following YOUR path?  What if our selfish ambitions led us here?  What if our own desires brought us back?  Were we even called to the B people in the first place?  What if the addiction of choosing the “hard” path led us to this place?  How do we know?  Can we ever know?  What if…

The enemy sure knows how to flood our hearts and minds with doubts, questions, fears, and what ifs.  He knows how spread on the guilt so thick that you can’t breathe.  There have been nights where we wake up with our hearts racing and wonder if we’d even really fallen asleep to begin with.  There are days where we have mini panic attacks, sick about the whole situation.  Some days we find ourselves just crying without even knowing why.  But we know why.  LOSS.  That’s it in a nutshell.  We’re grieving.  We’re grieving as if having gone through a miscarriage.  (I’ve experienced two miscarriages so I don’t use this analogy lightly.)  A miscarriage of a ministry dream.  We’ve been in Africa for 10 years.  Every detour and bend in the road has led us to this point.  We were in the final trimester where the work gets intense and personal.  The time where seeds are planted with hope of His church being born.  We’d been looking forward to this phase for years.  We had dreams of building relationships, jumpstarting projects, and watching our children grow up in the village.  I had imagined our daily lives in our house, interacting with our neighbors, and sharing the Bread of Life. 

 We’ve prayed for years for the B people.  

But God.  I can honestly say we’ve never experienced full on depression.  Over the last few months, we may have tasted it.  There were days where I just couldn’t bring myself to teach the boys.  I’d start reading a book and have to put it down because I was choking on the words and fighting back tears.  GRIEVING.  How do you carry on with your day when you feel like your purpose has been taken away? While my identity is in Christ, my calling is to be a missionary.  God, you gave me that.  You gave me that calling.  Are you now taking it away?  Why? If so, what am I to do?  Why would you take away something YOU gave me?  Sure, you ask us to take up our cross, to crucify the flesh, to surrender ALL.  This lifestyle of habitual surrender has led us to the B people.  Now you’re asking us to give them up?  That makes no sense.  We were willing and ready to go.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?  I know you don’t “need” us to reach the B people, but you did entrust us with this task.  Why are you asking us to step out now?

I can’t help but think of poor Job.  I’m not, by any means, comparing my faith to his.  He suffered WAY more loss than we’ve known.  But he recognized that all of his blessings came from God.  He was walking with the Lord and BAM!  The opportunity to minister to the B people is a huge blessing…one that God placed in our laps. A gift from the Creator above who longs for his creation to know Him.  Just like Job we asked God to point out unknown sin in our lives and to forgive us if we’ve erred unknowingly.  Is all this a result of some sin we’re not aware of?  And just like Job, we felt God saying, “No.”  So, back to square one.  Will we ever know this side of eternity WHY the door closed to move back into our village right now?  Maybe not.  In words of Job in Job 3:24, “Sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water.”  We’ve all but lost our appetite for anything else.  Our hearts are divided, forced to live in two different worlds.  

I could go on, but I’m sure I’ll never be able to adequately express all our questions and thought process along the way.  So, on with the timeline.  After our leadership explained to our village that we were not allowed back in due to security concerns, they presented us with interim ministry options.  The one we felt God directing us towards was the one we never saw coming.  We never in a million years imagined they would suggest that we base out of Brazil and represent West Africa to our Latin American training centers.  It’s kind of ironic.  We’re going to be trying to mobilize missionaries in training to head to West Africa…the place we just left and aren’t able to return to for the next year and a half.  Granted, there’s more places to serve than Burkina Faso…but still, the irony is not lost on me.  We’ve always said it would be nice to some day take a year or two and spend time in Brazil so the kids could really learn Portuguese, get more time with the grandparents, and maybe get my citizenship.  Voilà!  We just didn’t expect it to be now at such a crucial time in ministry.  Not when folks are open to hear and ready to receive us.  Not when we have a house to return to.  Not when we’ve counted the cost and said, “Here am I, send me.” 

I know, I know, I know.  Brazil isn’t a punishment.  On the contrary, I think it will be great for our family.  Who knows who God wants us to connect with while we’re there.  I know my God has great things in store for His children.  But how do we do an about-face and dive into another ministry when our heart just isn’t in it?  How can we be present in Brazil when our feet feel like they’re still in Burkina Faso?  The goodbyes, the tears, the unanswered questions are still too fresh. 

“But aren’t you glad you’re home safe?”  Well…we never wanted to leave.  

I don’t expect everyone to understand.  It’s hard to understand a calling that we ourselves can’t always explain.  Sometimes, we don’t want to try and explain.  We just want folks to listen…that is, when we feel like talking.  We need you to “weep with us. ”  We need you to try and understand our calling and not think we’re crazy.  We need you to help us rest, whatever that might look like.  And most importantly, we need you to let us know you’re praying for us.  When we’re overseas it’s easy to feel alone and isolated.  Many times you may be praying for us but we won’t know it unless you send us a message or an email telling us so.  

 

I feel like we’re coming out of a dark tunnel of doubt and disappointment.  Have our questions been answered?  Nope.  But we’re turning the page and jumping into the unknown, knowing that He is still here.  He hasn’t left our side.  Our faith is weak but He is strong.  Even though any excitement of what’s to come still feels like a betrayal to what we’ve left behind, we’ll still choose JOY.  We’re trusting God to do great and amazing things in the waiting.  We’re asking Him to help us be present in this pause.  We’re learning to be still and just know that He is a Sovereign God, completely in control, and not put off by our questions and doubts. We’re believing He will “turn my lament into a love song”.  I know in my bones He’s writing us a new song, we just don’t know the melody yet.  We’re confident He will give us the strength to sing when the time comes…for His glory.  Until then, we’ll lift our hands and our hearts and let the tears fall.

Boys at Banfora Falls

A year and a half from now I’ll look back on this post and say, “God You made a way”!

“Oh Lord my faith is tired and tears fill up my eyes, but I will trust You.  I will trust You.  Whatever comes my way, You have taught me to say.  Amen, let Your kingdom come.  Amen, let Your will be done.”

 
 
 
 
Boys walking with JoJo

Dusty Feet

Dear Praying Friends and Family,

The dust is beginning to settle on our new reality.  We cannot go back to our village for at least one and half to two years.  Our heads are reeling from the abruptness of this change.  But at some point, we have to look ahead.  We have to dust our feet off and move forward. God is not done with our story. 

We have taken up our leadership’s proposal to become Latin American Coordinators for the next one and half to two years while we hope and pray things settle down here in Burkina Faso.  Our heart’s desire is to return and recommence work among the B people.  In the meantime we’ll be based out of Brazil visiting the different training centers in Latin America and encouraging missionaries to head to West Africa!  Here is what our leadership has to say about this interim ministry:

We wanted to let you know about a development in the ministry of Daniel and Stephanie Dias.  As you know, we have been pursuing ministry with the B people in what has become a high risk context.  We have been engaging in our protocols to position ourselves and the Diases to pursue this ministry.  However, their US sending office, for various reasons, has been unable to support this ministry direction.

We as a field leadership team and the Diases themselves remain committed to the ministry of reaching the B people with the Gospel.  However, we recognize that it will take some time for us to position ourselves to be able to do this.  We have asked Daniel and Stephanie to engage in a temporary ministry, to be reevaluated in July 2020, while we seek to sort this out ourselves.

We have asked, and Daniel and Stephanie have accepted, to represent what God is doing in West Africa to our Latin American partners.  Our desire has been to see an increase in the number of Latin American members serving on our team.  Recently we have been receiving requests for information by those who are interested.  We feel the need to have a liaison who would engage in raising awareness about our church planting ministry in West Africa, be involved in recruiting, and facilitate arrival to our field.

We see how God has gifted Daniel and Stephanie to fill this role and we are excited to see how he will use them over the next year and a half!

Please let us know if you have any thoughts on input on this situation.

Serving together for the ministry of the Gospel

Joel McMartin

for the West Africa Field Leadership Team

We are still waiting to hear from Micah’s school about whether or not he can finish out the year in Kenya while we serve in Brazil.  There are other issues like selling our old car and figuring out what to do with the car we’re paying on monthly, selling off our solar batteries so they don’t just sit and ruin, storing our belongings, communicating well with the village and folks here in town, etc. that we’re also dealing with.  All the while, I’m trying to homeschool as much as possible.

As you can imagine, these last few months have taken its toll on us emotionally and spiritually.  My (Stef’s) parents have graciously provided so we can fly home to the states for Micah’s school break coming up right after Thanksgiving.  So soon!!  We have a lot to take care of before then, but we’re trusting this will be a time for us to reflect on God’s goodness and faithfulness and just rest before we jump into our interim ministry.  School begins in February in Brazil, so we’ll be heading that way sometime in January. 

How can you be praying for us? 

Pray that we do not listen to the enemy’s voice and linger in our disappointment.  God is not surprised and He has not forsaken us.

Pray that our marriage and family will get stronger as a result of this unexpected trial.

Pray for the logistics of 2 big trips and for God’s financial provision.  Pray for our car to sell.  He has already provided for our trip the states and half of our trip to Brazil! Pray that we won’t loose monthly support during this interim ministry.  Pray for our support team to increase so we can be at 100%.

Pray for those we’re leaving yet again.  Pray this will not be a discouragement to believers here nor to the B people who were waiting for us to move back in.  Pray that God will use whatever He sees fit to get the Gospel to the B people.

Pray that we will be present in the ministry He places us in even when our hearts are geographically divided.

Pray for our kids who will be attending school in Brazil in Portuguese.  Pray they learn/improve in language quickly and make friends. 

I could go on and on, but these are the big prayer requests.  I’ll stop here for now.  It’s hard not to get emotional talking about these things.  God knows our hearts.  He planted the desire to reach the B people within us and He knows best how to reach that goal.  We want to be faithful to His calling wherever He leads.  We are humbled to have you walking this journey with us!  May He receive all the glory for every mountain, every valley, and every bend in this road we’re on! 

In His Faithful Grip,

Stef. for the Diases

This Chapter Wasn’t in my Book

As I stare at this blank page yet to be filled, I can’t help but hesitate.  How do I communicate what we’ve been going through these last two weeks?  How do I help you feel the emotions we’re feeling?  How do I help you feel the weight on our shoulders?  How do I convince you to try on our shoes?

I don’t.  I can’t.  It’s all still too raw.  It’s too soon.  My one consolation:  the Writer of MY story isn’t finished. 

In lieu of going too deep into the abyss that is my emotions/aspirations/concerns/doubts/dreams, etc.,  I’m gonna hit ya with the facts.  In times like these, comedy is one of my favorite remedies.  It sure beats crying, which we’ve both done our share of lately.  So bear with me, if you will.

Instead of moving back into our B* village…back into our home we only spent a week in before leaving on our last home assignment (that ended up lasting 6 months longer than we’d planned)…Sorry, I diverge.  Instead of moving forward with returning to the village (per the permission given to us by our leadership in West African), a new security report came out that put the brakes on everything.

By everything I mean, we are not allowed to move back into our village house as long as our village continues to be located in a red zone (a.k.a high risk area.) 

SMACK!  We felt like we got blindsided by this decision.  It was like having the rug pulled out from underneath our feet that had just found their footing.  (Facts, Stephanie. Just stick to the facts). 

Now, this decree has been sent down by Ceasar Augu…oops, wrong story…our US leadership in agreement with our mission’s security team.  We respect these Godly men and women who God has placed in authority over us.  We recognize that they want to see the B* reached just as much as we do.  They simply cannot support a decision that would have us reaching the B* from our village location. 

Unfortunately, there is no other option at this point.  Our supply town is 3 hours away and it would be nearly impossible to learn the B* language from there, even IF we found a suitable language helper. Besides, it’s not how we roll.  Learning language apart from culture, outside of the village context just isn’t the ideal.  The only immediate road back to the B* is leaving our mission and going back in independently. We don’t feel this an option either due to the fact that we believe that missions is the responsibility of the body.  How can we represent the church if we work outside of it?   

So, that brings us to the question:  So what do we do while we wait to see if God will reopen the B* work?  Good question.  The only answer we have at the moment is:  We have NO idea. 

This is where you come in.  We need your prayers.  Some of our West African leadership team are coming in next week to help us process this predicament we find ourselves in and to brainstorm some possible interim ministries.  One family is actually bringing their two sons who are Elijah and JJ’s age.  Needless to say, they’re all pretty excited! 

Folks, in all honesty, we have no PLAN B.  It’s always been the B* people or bust.  We’ve labored 10 years to this end.  God has opened so many doors to get us here.  We just told folks in the village we were ready to move back out NOW.  Sigh. 

Please be praying for God’s will to be CLEAR.  We have no desire to do anything else…even temporarily.  We also know that we want God to use this “yellow light” in our lives to increase our faith and to prepare even more for the ministry He has before us. Pray that we won’t move until He tells us to move.  Pray that HIS name will be glorified in our lives, regardless of our geographical location.  Pray for us as a family as we walk this disappointing road filled with many voices screaming out all sorts of discouraging things, contrary to the character of our loving Father.  Pray that we stand firm in His promises and listen only to our Shepherd’s voice. 

We would like to have some direction to share with you by the end of the month (Oct).  We realize that future decision not only impact us, our team, the B* people, but they also impact you…our senders.  Thank you all for your words of encouragement and financial support.

His Will Not Ours,

Stef for the Diases